Hefner, We Love the City (Beggars Banquet): Though We Love the City's effete folk-pop suggests Darren Hayman's as much a 'burb-dwelling Neil Young as he is a low-rent Fran Healy, his commingling of social criticism and social anxiety evokes Morrissey at his most self-pitying. Ironic title in tow, Hefner's frontman sets out to gibe his native London and all its spiritual bankruptcy, but his sharp tongue usually ends up licking his own wounds. Which is understandable: When you're so busy trying to come up with pretty melodies and totally satiric conceits, it's easy to conflate sexual frustration and the slow decline of the British Empire. If, however, this kind of fagged-out shtick would seem to make for icky singer-songwriter fare or shambling lo-fi, you should know that although Hayman's nasal croon dominates, he's got a big bag of tricks for a guy so down on himself. Mellotron, synths, piano, horns and satiny harmonies (with help from Amelia Fletcher of Talulah Gosh/ Heavenly/ Marine Research fame) accompany the flavorless strum-to-skronk of his guitar; attention to detail particularly benefits the lush and endearing "Good Fruit," the rare track wherein lovelorn earnestness replaces self-conscious repartee. "The Greedy Ugly People" and "The Day That Thatcher Dies" are par for City's (dis)course, each trafficking in the sort of acerbity that comes way too easy to Hayman (in case you couldn't tell from the titles). "Thatcher" sports a kiddie choir chanting "Ding, dong, the witch is dead," and if that's not Pink Floyd enough for you, Hayman borrows Roger Waters' wicked schoolmaster's yawp for "Painting and Kissing," which recounts a doomed fling by way of a cheap metaphor, transposing a map of London over a map of the heart (both of which plot a course for grief, misery, etc.). "This is Sixth Form poetry," Hayman confides on the title track. But since his hooks are more interesting than his disaffection, it ain't so bad as pop music. — Christian David Hoard

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